In memoriam Joaquim Homs

The tradition of the tombeau goes back to 16th century France, and its origins are literary: it referred to a collection of short poems that poets wrote to commemorate the death of famous people. The tombeau was adopted by musicians round the middle of the 17th century. In general, the tombeau took the form of a pavane or allemande and was used by such notable composers as Marin Marais, Robert de Visée and Louis Couperin. In time, the genre went out of use, and it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that some French composers, with the intention of recalling old national musical glories, once again started to give the title tombeau to short pieces dedicated in memoriam to dead musicians or composers: the Tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel, or the Tombeau de Debussy, written in 1920 by a group of composers -which included such famous figures as Bartók, Ravel, Falla, Stravinsky and Dukas- are well-known examples.

It is in this tradition of collective tribute to a composer who is no longer with us that forms the context of this disc In memoriam Joaquim Homs. With the aim of commemorating the centenary of the birth of the composer Joaquim Homs (Barcelona, 1905-2003), I commissioned a short piece for piano to twenty Spanish composers. The piece was not to exceed three minutes and had to include some reference to Joaquim Homs, or to his work. A large number of the composers have chosen to use some textual quote taken from Homs´ music: Benet Casablancas (Sabadell, 1956) based the whole of his Tombeau on the final chord of the Impromptu nº 6. Jesus Torres (Zaragoza, 1965) in …i l'infant dorm (…and the child sleeps) uses as his material the folk song of this title, on which Homs wrote the Variations on a Catalan folk melody in 1942. José Luis Turina (Madrid, 1952) also uses the same melody for his Soliloquy, but whereas in Torres´ piece the melody appears in blocks of sound, generating harmonies, the piece by Turina quotes it literally, but backwards (in other words, beginning with the last note of the original melody and finishing with the first). Lauda, by Alfredo Aracil (Madrid, 1954) freely follows the harmonic development of Record (Memory), Homs´ last piano piece (which can be heard at the end of this disc, in the form of an epilogue). Hector Parra (Barcelona, 1976) quotes in the last bars of his Impromptu a fragment of the second movement of Homs' Sonata nº 2. My Derivacions (Derivations) use the first bars of the Impromptu nº 4, which appear quoted literally at the beginning of the piece (the title Derivations is also an homage to Homs, since this is the title he gave to the second movement of the Sonata nº 2, and also to his last orchestral work). Ramón Lazkano (San Sebastián, 1968) in Presencia (Presence) uses the same series of twelve notes which Homs used in the orchestral work Presències, but also the notes B and E flat (which in German nomenclature are the letters H and S, which appear in the surname "Homs"). And to close the chapter on quotes, Francesc Taverna-Bach (Barcelona, 1932) bases his En la presència incerta (In the uncertain presence) on the chord which Homs used in his 3 invencions sobre un acord (3 inventions on one chord).

Another possibility used by some composers has been to play with Homs´ name, choosing the notes according to convenience: Aura by Josep Mª Guix (Reus, 1967), uses the letters o-a-i-h-o of "Joaquim Homs" to obtain the basic material (the notes G-A-E-B-G). In Instants by David Padrós (Igualada, 1942), the surname "Homs" takes the form of the chord B-C-E-Eflat, while in the "Deploration III" of José Mª Sánchez-Verdú (Algeciras, 1968) also explores the possibilities of these same four notes.

Other composers have wished to honour Joaquim Homs with titles close to the work of the Barcelona composer; so there has been a good crop of Impromptus which refer us to the seven which Homs composed for piano between 1955 and 1960: the almost impressionist Impromptus of Jesús Rueda (Madrid, 1961) and Manuel Rodeiro (San Xoan de Vilanova, 1965), and the Impromptu per Homs (Impromptu for Homs) by Josep Ma Mestres-Quadreny (Manresa, 1929), are pieces which, without making direct reference to any work by Homs, continue the tradition of a genre whose roots go back to early romanticism. There are also works which make reference to other titles of Joaquim Homs: the Via Crucis, réminiscence by Victor Estapé (Sant Sadurni d'Anoia, 1962) is an evocation of the first work Estapé heard by Homs, which made a strong impression on him: the Via Crucis for string quartet (1956). The Rossinyol (Nightingale) by Ramon Humet (Barcelona 1968) forms part of the ambitious Escenes del Bosc (Scenes of the wood) and is inspired by Ocells perduts (Lost birds), one of the works most loved by Homs himself. The piece by Joan Guinjoan (Riudoms, 1931) Recordant a Homs (Remembering Homs) carries the subtitle of Soliloqui per la mà esquerra (Soliloquy for the left hand), another of the common titles of Homs´ mature work: the soliloquy. Furthermore, Guinjoan uses as a principal motif the rhythm of black-white, which is quite common in Homs´ work. Also similar to the character of a soliloquy is the Monólogo 2 (Monologue 2) by César Camarero (Madrid 1962).

Finally, a few composers have written pieces dedicated to Homs, but without any specific reference to him. This is the case with Púlsar by Miquel Roger (Barcelona, 1954) and the Rondós by David del Puerto (Madrid, 1964), while Josep Soler (Vilafranca del Penedès, 1935) gives his piece a sufficiently explicit title: "Homenatge a Joaquim Homs" ("Homage to Joaquim Homs"). As an epilogue to the disc, it seemed appropriate to finish with a piece by Homs himself -who, by the way, was a prolific writer of in memoriams to fellow composers, family members and friends- pieces which are gathered together in the collections Sis Reminiscències and Tres evocacions (Six reminiscences and Three evocations) (not forgetting the monumental in memoriam of his Presències, written in 1967 on the death of his wife Pietat Fornesa). The short Record which closes this disc is the last piece for piano which the composer wrote, and is dated 10th December 1995.

Jordi Masó
January 2006
(Trans. Paul Jutsum)

Essay for the booklet of the CD "In memoriam Joaquim Homs" (Anacrusi 060)